Recently in House Category

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You may or may not be amazed to find that the programmable thermostat and remote management options are ridiculously weak. We literally had thermostats from Bayweb on order, when we saw an article about Nest thermostats.  There is little that I can write that hasn't already been said by the authorities: NYTimes, David Pogue, Macworld

We will no longer be arriving to a freezing cold house (we keep it at 50 when not there). We can adjust them temperature from our phones in the car, or simply before we leave the office. (update: we have radiant heat, it takes a full day to get up to temperature from 50 degrees.)

It works, as it should, right out of the box, no instructions needed.  It took about 10 minutes to install (thwarted only by the depth of the sheet rock before I hit a solid joist in the marriage wall).

These photos leave a bit to be desired, it was 630am and my 16 month-old helper was buzzing around my feet.

After turning the power back on, I connected to our wireless internet connection and the unit self-updated.

Nest Thermostat Software Update

It then backed itself up.

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It asks for your zip code.

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Then setup was complete.

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A long article on the trials and tribulations of prefab building is yet to come. Only thing I can say with definitive clarity is steer far clear of the factory Penn Lyon Homes. (update 3.21.11: just learned Pennlyon was purchased) Our contact there, Ben Burns lied to us, misled us, missed every deadline that was set, was one of the most unprofessional business people I've dealt with.  On top of that, we are now 10 months from setting the house and they still haven't paid the set crew. They owe us countless thousands of dollars for errors, ommissions and ridiculous mistakes (some of them not even to code).

But all that aside, Hidden Valley Construction, our on-site builders, did a fantastic job and made up for and fixed all of Penn Lyon's shortcomings.

The basic timeline from setting the house to sleeping in it was just over three months. 

We'll post a more complete update soon, but the bathroom tile is going in and the porches are being framed up.

Fun stuff.


It's been an incredibly busy January, so it's been two weeks since we last visited the site.  In the mean time;
The septic has finally been finished. 
The radiant heat is still radiating gloriously.
The cork floor has been delivered (not installed).
The ikea kitchen has been delivered (not installed).
The first floor bathroom was just leveled and the floor tiled.
The basement has been sheet rocked.
The back-up heat system (a long story) has been installed and ventilation run around the basement perimeter (see photos below).

And at long last, the siding has been completed.  It looks great.  The vertical tongue-in-groove rough cedar planks were all stained in the basement and dried before going up on the house.


The two halves of the house were delivered today, to be set on the foundation tomorrow.


It has been an unnecessarily long and drawn out year of trying to get this house built.  We've waded through countless bids and considered every route from stick built to various levels of prefabrication.  The gory details can wait until it is finished, but at long last it is moving forward - with a functional plan and people in place to get the job done. 

The final recipe is:


1. Architectural Design by Rapson Architects based on the Case Study House # 4
2. Factory and Prefab coordination and consulting by Walter Bestwick.
3. Prefab Foundation by Superior Walls.
4. Prefab house construction built in the Penn Lyon factory in Selinsgrove, PA
5. Site prep and on-site finishing by Hidden Valley Construction. (who have been fantastic!)


The Villa Straylight is becoming more of a reality every day. We have been working with Rapson Architects and Wieler Homes to put this project together and so far everything has been moving right along. We have been getting a steady stream of plans from Toby Rapson (whom Stevie had the pleasure to meet in person in Minneapolis last week) and as they get more specific we get more excited. Nate Wieler is in the process right now of looking for a factory that is New York certified to prefabricate the building.

A couple of nifty details have been working their way into the plan. First, is the idea of building the house with two different ceiling heights connected by an atrium with a set of clerestory windows that runs down the middle of the house. Along with some dramatic added height, it will also catch morning light from the East. And the second amazing detail is a stone walkway inside, beneath the atrium, made up of Bluestone rocks that are found in abundance all over our land. Might as well use what you have!

The house will be roughly 1000sq ft with an added 1000 sqft full-height basement. On the main floor, we'll have two bedrooms, kitchen, living room, bathroom and outdoor shower. The basement we are going to leave unfinished for the time being.
September 13, 1914 - March 29, 2008

To read more about Ralph Rapson and his legacy visit Rapson Architects.


In doing and extra little bit of research about prefabs online, we stumbled upon Wieler. Not sure how we missed this one in our first round of looking but we are intrigued. The houses are based on a case study house designed in 1945 by Ralph Rapson. Very cool. And the cost per square foot is pretty much the same as the weeHouse. And according to the website, they include more services in the $140 - $200/sqft:

  • Allowance for building permits & local impact fees
  • Site preparation
  • Allowance for foundation (on crawl space, basement additional cost)
  • All off-site construction and on-site finishing of home
  • Exterior and interior doors, windows, flooring, plumbing fixtures, hardware, lighting fixtures
  • HVAC installation
  • Appliances
  • Exterior siding
  • Delivery and set costs
  • General contractor, engineering, and architectural fees


The model that would make the most sense for us is the starter with an addition of 12'x24' module. The original floorplan looks like this:
greenbelt_starter_floor_plan-1.jpgHere is a revised version of that plan with the addition as two bedrooms. The house would then be 864 sq/ft. It would have a guest room/den and a master bedroom with a built in closet that has sliding doors out to the patio:greenbelt_starter_floor_planREV.jpg

Here are some other views of the starter plan:


Everyone is jumping on the prefab band wagon! Design Within Reach has a nice little 9'x13' studio that could function as detached office/extra bedroom at a future date. It comes as "kit" with instructions to assemble it yourself on-site.

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And why prefab? There are many reasons why this type of building is possibly the only way we can make our dream of a little place in the woods a reality. We both work more than full time, live in Manhattan and don't have time to oversee the construction of a site built house. Having the house delivered already built will make the fact that we can't be at the construction site everyday during the process much easier. Prefab houses are built in a factory so there is less waste than a site built house; extra materials can be used for other projects. And they are manufactured in a climate controlled environment so you don't have to worry about weather delaying construction. WeeHouses are pre-designed so you don't have to pay an architect to design the house. Modern houses like the ones we are interested in would be expensive to have designed from scratch. And we are told the cost is 20% cheaper than a site built home, around $125-200 sq/ft. We also dig that the weeHouses come standard with bamboo flooring and Ikea cabinets, practical options we would have picked ourselves.
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We have decided to focus mostly on the weeHouse for the Villa Straylight. The model we are looking at is the "large" model below.

14' x58'=812sqft.
2 bedroom, 1 bath
Pricing for the North East Region: $139K - $145K





All things considered, a prefab home will be the way to go for our Villa Straylight. We love the weeHouse the best, it satisfies all of our requirements. But we are still exploring all the options out there just  in case the weeHouse doesn't work out for some reason. Fabprefab seems to be the place to go for extensive information on prefabs from all over the world.